Rob Fleder (editor)
Published: May 24, 2012
Category: Non Fiction
When I worked at America Online, Memorial Day was about a brief nod to the war dead and a loud hello to grilling season. We’d built a giant special feature about grilling, and every year we rolled it out and collected another zillion clicks. So I would probably be smart to fire up a grill feature.
But the thing is, I’m not as fond of charred beef as your average exemplary American, and I’ve got scant affection for dry, stiff chicken, and as for watching fish flake off into the charcoal, no thanks. And when I picture Dad in an apron with I WEAR THE PANTS on it, I just completely lose it.
As for the war dead and wounded, what we mostly do is dishonor them. Read Marian Salzman’s piece about vets with brain injuries and you’ll be sad and furious.
So for a Memorial Day “celebration,” it looks like we’re down to baseball, the so-called national pastime. I could argue that. If you feel like taking the kids to a Yankee game, you’d better be in the 1% --- tickets and snacks are budget-busters for lesser mortals. Not that the new Yankee Stadium is anything close to your vision of it. The House That Ruth Built now has so many flashing screens you can’t keep your attention on the action. Truly, being there is the next worst thing to being trapped in a slot machine at Foxwoods.
Happily, Rob Fleder --- who is the former Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated and can probably field and bat brilliantly --- has pulled together a book of pieces about the Yankees. Add peanuts and popcorn, cook up a dog and slather it with mustard, crack open a beer better than Bud, and you’re ready to read these 24 pieces. [To buy “Damn Yankees” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Some writers love the Yankees. Others love them less: Dan Okrent, Frank Deford and J. R. Moehringer (yes, the author of The Tender Bar). And guys like Roy Blount Jr are just too funny to take sides.
This is a writer’s book, not a sportswriter’s book, and that makes all the difference. Like the transplanted Irish writer, Colum McCann, author of “Let The Great World Spin.” His is a father-and-son story, but with a lovely twist. He’s not passing on his love for baseball. His son is teaching it to him. A sample:
Down, 3-1. Bottom of the ninth. One on. Nobody out. The Yankees against the Minnesota Twins. Game 2 of the American League Division Series, October 2009. A-Rod is at the plate. The air has that chewy sense of hope. There is always call for a miracle.
“It’s gonna happen, Dad.”
This is what baseball can do to the soul: it has the ability to make you believe in spite of all other available evidence. My son, John Michael, is 10 years old. We are in the bleachers. He leans in to me and says that the pitch is going to come in high and fat. It’s still a new language to me. The pitch is thrown, and indeed it does — it comes in high and fat, and 94 miles per hour. A-Rod leans into it like he’s about to fell a tree and smacks the ball and it soars, that little sphere of cowhide rising up over the Bronx, and it is a moment unlike any other, when you sit with your son in the ballpark, and the ball is high in the air, you feel yourself aware of everything, the night, the neon, the very American-ness of the moment.
And then it strikes you that the ball has an endless quality of fatherhood to it.
The Yankees as eternal winners? Here’s Dan Barry on the years they weren’t even close:
The seasonal failure of the Yankees made the game of baseball somehow sweeter. It became a kind of binding agent for a suburban family in need of one: a shared distraction; an ever-ready conversation changer. When my father lost his job, or temper; when our home’s domestic quarrels became loud enough for the entire neighborhood to enjoy (Mets fans, all of them); when the three dogs slipped under the fence and ran away again, there was always this:
Dad, didja see that the Yankees are gonna get Rocky Colavito? Rocky Colavito?!?
Dad, watch me do a high-kicking windup, just like Lindy McDaniel!
Dad, guess what? Bobby Murcer is an All-Star!
Dad, it says here that Mickey is going to play in the Old-Timers’ Game. Can we watch that together? Can we?
But if I start quoting, this piece will go into extra innings, and Derek Jeter will be on a walker. So let me suppress the urge to tell you about the player who lost his skills overnight and Catfish Hunter moving unsteadily toward death and the future superstar Robinson Cano. Let me not say that some pieces fell flat for me, and that my tolerance for the Yankees is not quite what it used to be, and that I once reviewed a biography of George Steinbrenner with such loathing that my editor needed asbestos gloves to hold the printout. (My prose was, correctly, tempered before publication.)
If you know someone who reads the sports pages first, here’s a book that he --- or she --- will greatly enjoy.